Humanity of the Homeless


Imogen Harper-Donnelly

Photo by Napatr Pat Pumhiran

It seems to be just another fact of life in Isla Vista: sun, sea and Pirate. The homeless, whose trolleys we see resting against the trees in the park and on the corner outside IV Market, are a permanent part of the community. However, like a pirate in a Disney movie, do we simply stereotype the homeless and give them characters that they do not deserve? Yes, for some their life of panhandling is a result of the slippery slope of addiction but our preconceptions and judgments don’t take into account their individual and colorful pasts. By listening to the stories of the homeless it becomes clear that it isn’t just our location that we have in common.

First of all, of course, I spoke to “The Pirate,” whose name is in fact, Raymond. He told me that he has been living in Isla Vista for around 20 years after being born in East Los Angeles and having lived in Texas and Ohio. His eyes lit up as he told me stories about “So many parties” and “racing with his homies.”

“Twenty-one is the best age,” he said, with a glint in his eye. “Still a little bit of me is 21.”

When I asked him about why he liked Isla Vista he said it was because he was safe.

“Everyone knows me and I know everyone,” said Raymond.

Behind the straggly beard, bandana and eye patch, Raymond grinned, “It is a happy place. LA was danger… now come here and give me a pirate hug!”

Although Raymond doesn’t do much to dispel the stereotype of the homeless as old, grubby, begging men, it is important to remember that this is just one picture and that there are many others. The story of M.J. highlights the diversity of the homeless and the often unexpected suddenness of their situation. A divorced, single mom with two teenagers, M.J was working in the financial sector when one day she slipped on a wet floor and seriously injured herself.

Workers’ compensation paid for her medical bills although the time that she needed off work to recover resulted in her employer terminating her. Then, due to the new cap on temporary disability compensation M.J. had $816 a month to live off. This meant that the middle-aged mother was forced to sell her house and instead took to sleeping in her 1995 Honda.

I heard a similar story of an unforeseeable life changing accident from Rick. I met Rick playing his guitar outside Pita Pit and he told me about how he had lost his job as a lorry driver after he injured his leg and was no longer able to drive. When I asked him what his thoughts were about the homeless community he told me, “Half of them want to be here and half of them don’t.”

This made me think, of the half that do not want to be here, what is being done to help them? Instead of us judging the homeless should we not be judging the system that is failing to help?

Just last month two Lompoc homeless shelters received eviction notices from the Lompoc Community Housing Development Corporation due to “mismanagement and a lack of revenue.” The inhabitants woke up and were told that they had to find somewhere new to sleep. They were offered a place in the nearby Warming Centre, a building that opens if there is over a 50 percent chance of rain in an attempt to prevent hypothermia.

One charity that is dedicated to helping the homeless in Santa Barbara is Common Ground, whose findings from a survey last year helps to dispel common misconceptions. Over 1000 surveys were completed in the Santa Barbara area by individuals between the ages of 12 and 78. Of this demographic 27 percent were females, 15 percent veterans and over 30 percent had some college education.

I’m not suggesting that everyone goes out and gets a pirate hug, but instead, next time you zip up your University of California Santa Barbara sweater and walk away, just think: there is a 1 in 3 chance that they too have owned a college sweater, that in fact they may once not have not been that different to you.